The portfolio – notoriously difficult for some and entirely subjective. Where to begin? We asked professional photographer and gifted Blurb author (of an outstanding portfolio or two) Sara Lando, how she kicks off these projects.
Blurb: Where do you draw your inspiration?
Sara: I spend a lot of time looking at photography books, illustrated books for children, fashion magazines, catalogues, and exhibitions. Each time I find myself in front of a series of photographs I try to be conscious of the way they work together, how one image links to the next, on rhythm and storytelling. If it works, I ask myself what I really liked about it. If something irks me, I try to understand exactly what it is, and then I try to apply that to my work.
Sara: The first thing I figure out is who I’m going to show it to. A portfolio for a magazine will be specifically tailored to what I think would be the perfect fit for their pages, but if I’m showing my pictures to an advertisement agency, I’ll select my best commercial work and maybe some product shots too.
I have several portfolios that are specific to a certain type of client and a selection of my best work which goes into my general portfolio – what goes in there is basically what I really love taking pictures of, what I would like to be paid to photograph all day long, every day.
Blurb: Print or digital?
Sara: I have a portfolio that’s printed on beautiful paper (which is why I was very excited when you introduced ProLine), but I also bring an iPad® with me. The great advantage of a digital portfolio is that I can rearrange photos into collections, and I can add an image or get rid of it in seconds.
I might also email a pdf as a reminder after a meeting, with the images they liked the most and my contact info. But I still think paper matters and it shows commitment to your work. If you don’t invest in your photos, why should clients?
Blurb: Is bigger better?
Sara: Not necessarily, but there must be a good reason to choose a small portfolio. If I had printed my 400+ page portfolio as a huge-format book, it would have been very uncomfortable to handle. I wanted something small that could be left on someone’s desk and picked up easily, something that people could flip through without needing to clear space.
Smaller books are more intimate somehow, because you need to keep the images closer to see them, but they might lose impact.
Also, when I need to show my work to someone who’s planning an ad campaign, I want them to see my images big, to prove they hold well at bigger sizes.
Sara: Be ready to kill your ideas, after you’ve tortured them.
There are pictures that work great as singles but just don’t work well with the others, and you might have to get rid of them. It’s also very easy to get attached to a specific shot and forget that your portfolio is only as good as your weakest image. Have no mercy.
Start by printing on cheap paper, small versions of all of the images you think represent your very best. Anything that’s an “almost” has to go. Almost in focus, almost nicely composed, almost great – kill them all.
Images that are too similar – pick one, no matter how good you think they are, flipping through several pages from the same shoot is dead boring, unless there’s a strong story being narrated or a specific project (but 90% of the time, there isn’t).
When you’re down to only your best photos, pair them – if you’re going to print both sides of the page you need to think in terms of “spreads”. If you plan on only printing on the right hand pages, you still need to figure out the perfect sequence.
Move them around to try different pairings and sequences. I like to work on the ground, some people prefer to pin the photos to a wall, but the important thing, in my opinion, is looking at them as if someone you hate took them.
Your best image should usually open your portfolio (sometimes it might be the only photo they will ever see) and your second best image should close it, as it will be the last impression of your work.
When you think you have found the perfect portfolio selection, set it aside for at least a day and then go back to it with new eyes. And if something isn’t working… you kill it again!
Huge thanks to Sara for taking the time to talk to us, and sharing her experience and insight on this subject.